Dear Love: Healing Through Writing Letters

A letter from the influential physicist, Richard Feynman, to his high-school sweetheart and wife, Arline Feynman.

Untitled

 

[From Letters of Note]

Sigh.  This letter was written 16 months after Arline died of tuberculosis at the age of 25.  The letter remained sealed in an envelope until after Richard Feynman’s death in 1988.

How many of you feel like you can relate to Richard on some level?  He’s a self-proclaimed stubborn and realistic man.  He admits there’s little logic in writing to his deceased wife.  Yet he still finds himself, two years later, professing his enduring and abiding love for his dead wife in a letter than can never be sent.

Valentine’s Day is a week away.  Although this is a day that traditionally focuses on romantic love, it can be hard for grievers no matter who they are missing.  A parent, sibling, child, spouse or partner are all people you may have interacted with on this day in the past and so it follows that you would now be affected by their absence.

If you want to bow out of Valentine’s Day altogether, I support you. As far as holidays go, Valentine’s Day is second-tier and you certainly won’t be the only one not celebrating. But before you sit down for your anti-Valentine’s Day movie marathon or crawl under the covers and go back to sleep, I want to challenge you to do one thing – be like Richard and write a love letter.  Stick with me because this is simple and I’m going to offer several options, including one for doing this with the kids.

Please believe me, writing helps.  We’ve written about letter writing and journaling in the past; but you don’t have to take our word for it.  Google ‘therapeutic writing’, ‘healing through writing’, ‘does journaling help’, and ‘writing and grief’ and you will see that the written word is a tried and true tool for helping people heal from emotional, stressful and traumatic events.  There’s just something about getting things down on paper.

How and where you want to do this is up to you.  I’m simply going to offer a few ideas and I hope you will consider giving one a try.

With regards to what to do with the letter when you’re done; if the letter isn’t written to a living person, then you have a few options:

  • Destroy the letter
  • Seal it in an envelope and keep it somewhere private
  • Save it somewhere on your hard drive or check out the website Aftertalk.com where you can write to deceased loved ones and save your writing for as long as you wish
  • Keep it close to you in your wallet or beside table
  • Send it to someone who might appreciate it
  • Share it with others who miss the person via e-mail, Facebook or personal blog
  • Share it anonymously or in a forum.
  • Feel free to share some of all of your letter in the comments below.

Write a love letter to the person who has died

  • Write a love letter as though the person is still alive.  Tell them all the things you love and appreciate about them.  Tell them something you never got the chance to say when they were alive.
  • Write a love letter recalling a favorite memory that you two shared.  For example, describe a day at the beach or the day they were born, tell them all the reasons why you cherish the memory.
  • Write a love letter telling the person how much you miss them.
  • Write a love letter bringing the person up to speed on everything that has happened since their death.  Tell them how you’ve grown and changed.  Tell them how you continue to honor their memory.

Write a love letter to someone else

  • Reach out to someone you know may also be sad, alone or grieving their own loss.
  • Write to someone you have lost touch with since the death of your loved one.
  • Write to someone who has been a good support to you since the death of a loved one.
  • Knowing that life is short and unpredictable, seize this opportunity to write a letter to someone telling them something you’ve been too shy, embarrassed, or hesitant to say.
  • Write a letter to someone you know your loved one appreciated.  For example, a favorite teacher, a friend, a religious leader, or someone who showed them kindness.

Write a love letter to yourself

  • Write to yourself and acknowledge all the ways you have grown and changed since your loved one’s death
  • Write to yourself and acknowledge at least 5 of your greatest strengths and personal qualities.
  • Write a letter to yourself at the time of your loved one’s death.  Give your past-self advice; tell your past-self about the most important lessons you’ve learned; and provide your past-self with words of encouragement.

Completing the exercise with children

Has your child experienced the death of a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, sibling or other relative?  Then instead of writing a love letter, sit down with the kids and create a valentine.  Here are a few suggestions.

Decide who the valentine is for?

  • The person who has died.
  • If the person who died was a more distant friend or relative, make the valentine for someone close to the deceased.

Create the valentine…

  • Talk about the valentine first.  Discuss how even though the person has died, there are still many people who love and miss them.  You might want to tell them what you will do with the valentine when it’s done.
  • Ask them what they think they should put on the valentine.  Talk about their favorite memories and discuss objects and pictures that remind them of their loved one, what they miss about the person, what they loved the most about the person, and the things they wish they could tell them.
  • If the valentine is for someone else, discuss a message you could write on it to make the person feel better.
  • Collect pictures, objects and magazine cut outs that remind the child of the person who died.  Allow the child to decorate and draw whatever they like, but ask them questions about their choices. Help them with a message if they like.

Decide what to do with the valentine…

  • If the valentine is for a relative of the deceased, decide whether you will send it or hand deliver it.
  • If the valentine is for a person who has died, decide whether you will keep it somewhere special or leave it in a special place that reminds the child of the person (ex. grave marker or their favorite park)

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March 28, 2017

16 responses on "Dear Love: Healing Through Writing Letters"

  1. Hi. my name is madison zelin. Andrew Spencer McMorris of Shoreham was killed at the age of 12 this November by a drunk driver, Tomas Murphy, who is still pleading not guilty even though he is a murder! was a a good friend to me, in fact, at my best friend, Carter Rubin’s birthday party, Andrew and I got really close. One of the things we discussed at the party was our future and what we wanted to do. Andrew said he wanted to try out for AGT, become a pilot, travel “everywhere and more”! He danced at that party like MJ himself. . . i never saw him dance again since then, that party was just a few weeks before he passed. Andrew and I have texted, been in many plays together, summer, school. We shared so many great memories. My favorites were High school musical and urine town the plays, he made me laugh so much and he was just so talented and always talked about how much of a ladies man he was, in the halls at school where we’d see each other and fist bump or high five, or he’d just moon walk and give me silly looks, and of course how much of an inspiration he was to me, andrew was so talented in everything he set his mind to, he was a role model. I miss andrew coming into my advisory to play instruments and talk to us(Gross’s advisory), i miss how he would always make me laugh, i miss him at chorus and the play this year, i just miss his smile. . . I was not Andrew’s best friend, maybe if he was still alive we could’ve become even closer and maybe eventually become best friends but we weren’t given that chance, but Andrew still meant so much to me. I miss him every day, i can’t stop thinking about him and how he died, even now in march. This community has suffered too many losses to handle. I saw Kallie the day she died. . .I still am not fully over her death. I want to make a change in this world in honor of Andrew! I want no more young boys or anyone to die due to DWI! There needs to be a change in this world, what happened to Andrew isn’t right, it’s not okay! I try to act like i’m okay but i’m really not inside. I am the scarecrow in this year’s musical the wiz, played by Micheal Jackson in the movie, i am honored to have the chance to honor andrew and his idol, i can’t wait. In honor of andrew we all need to be the best version of ourselves because he was always the best version of him! every night i think about him before bed and i cn’t help but cry. What happened to this little boy isn’t fair, he didn’t deserve this, no one does. When my mom told me that a 7th grade boyscout had died from my school, immediatly I said don’t be andrew please don’t let it be him, i will never be the same. I miss him so much and i can’t even begin to fantasise how his family is feeling, Mrs. and mr. and arianna Mcmorris, you are the strongest people i have ever met, stay strong. I love you Andrew, and I will never forget to you, keep on flying high with MJ buddy!
    Love, maddie❤🙏💙😢🌎🐋🎤🎹📷🎭🎸🎶

  2. I have been writing my fiance on FB messenger. I let it out..he is the only one I could truely let everything out. I tell him how much I miss him and all sorts of stuff. We used messenger everyday, all day until he got home from work. I miss those good morning sweetie, hope you slept good messages I would get up to every morning, he wrote when he got to work. It will be 68 weeks tomorrow my Randy was killed in a horrific car wreck, I’m still a mess most days 🙁

  3. We lost our baby in second trimester. its the biggest pain to live with.

  4. This is a great website. I have been looking to write to my death love one who passed away July 28,2018.

  5. Nanny,
    I miss you every day.

    I’m so sorry I wasn’t with you when you passed away. I did ask Dad if he wanted to go down to see you but he said no. I couldn’t go alone…
    So so much has happened since you were gone. I remember the day I found out you had passed away. It was just after the bank holiday weekend in May last year, and my Mum called me at work just before 9am to say you’d died. I could not believe it. We only spoke a week ago when it was your birthday, and you thanked me for my lovely birthday card I had sent to you… you always loved those birthday cards didn’t you. You never ever expected anything apart from a lovely card. It’s so sweet… every single year without fail, you always sent me a beautiful card, with an amazing verse, and always always put money in that card for me to treat myself to something… I appreciate it. That was one constant in my life that I needed and you never ever failed.

    So much has happened Nan. I feel like the only person who hasn’t changed is my Dad, thank goodness. I am still looking after him and text him every single day and make sure he’s doing OK. Shortly after your funeral, Mum had a massive brain injury in Lidl. She was rushed to Bristol and we nearly lost her… it was such a scary time, and she was completely out of it… my other Nan was in a care home too as she broke her ankle and couldn’t go back home yet so I really felt like I had no one to turn to. Mum is brain damaged now… I never ever thought id say those words. Also you remember my other Nan? She has dementia and alzheimer’s, and is really poorly with it. She’s become incontinent and everything, and I’ve never ever thought I’d see her so vulnerable.
    Mum started to recover, and finally came home in August last year, but she’s never ever been the same since. She cannot remember anything, she’s getting confused, and when she had the accident, it was like a living nightmare… she was really angry, really irate, and really really angry and annoyed at anything and everything. I remember rushing down to Bristol with my Dad and Chris in the car… it was the day before we were due to go to Chris brothers wedding of all times!!! I remember sitting by my Mums bedside whilst she was completely out of it, either that or she was so angry due to the injury that she would hiss bite and shout and ball at me… I remember the brain injury team coming over and telling me the news that “she should have a good quality of life”… words I never ever thought I’d hear about someone that’s so close to me and a family member… it was like living in a nightmare… Mums still not looking after herself, and poor Dad goes up there every day to see Mum but she’s getting worse, she’s lost so much weight Nan you wouldn’t think she was the same person… its absolutely awful… my other Nan is in the care home because Mum was beating her up… she was completely bullying Nan and leaving her incontinence in bed all day sometimes – something she wouldn’t dream of doing before her brain injury… it’s so hard for me too Nan, as I’ve lost you, Mum and Nan… I have no one apart from my Dad now who is “normal” and understands, but he won’t give up his drinking, just like he was doing before you died… but as you said “my Dad likes a drink”.. just wish I had a bit more support. He does help me sometimes though which is a relief.

    Nan, I feel so alone. I really do. I can still hear your voice and the way you used to say “never” all the time… especially when shocked! I’ll never ever forget that.
    I will also always think of the good times we shared. You always used to come over on the bus to see me and always bought me a new winter coat so I would be warm in the winter… you’re such a special person, even thinking of my warmth and comfort and that I am clothed and well. I remember you coming over on the bus meeting you in Gloucester bus station and you had the biggest easter egg I had ever seen! I remember it now, it was gold… I loved that present and couldn’t get over it!

    Nan, I wanted something that reminded me of you when you had passed away, because even though I hadn’t seen you for a while and boy do I regret that now… I just really wanted something to remind me of you, your kind soul, beautiful nature, beautiful strong woman that you were… I asked Auntie Pat, who said I could help myself to something of yours…. I took some photographs of you, as you were so glamourous! You’ll always be my idol, and not a day goes by without me wearing the same eyeliner as you… because I too think my eyes are too small!! I was looking for something special, and found what my Mum said was your engagement ring -a beautiful blue sapphire and diamond ring. It is stunning and I was so happy and shocked when it actually fit my finger!! Only that same year I was actually talking about getting an eternity ring which was blue, and to my surprise, my ring finger is the only finger it fitted… I really hope you don’t mind me having the ring… it sounds so silly, but I thought since I had your ring everything that was going wrong to my family with my Mums accident and my Nan’s awful condition that it was a punishment for me taking it… but I know that’s my anxiety talking and not me, because when I look back at what you used to do for me and give me, you wouldn’t have minded at all and told me to take it yourself I’m sure…

    Nan, I miss you. I just wish I could give you a call… you were always so grateful for me calling you, and for me talking to you on the phone. I loved speaking to you, and loved talking about your past lives when you were in an office. I remember you asking me about my job and hating the NHS job that I also hated because of my mean boss… I remember you being so happy when I finally found a good job at my insurance company, and I’m so glad you knew about this before you passed.

    Nan, please give me guidance. I feel like giving up… I really do feel so low with everything that’s happened and continues to happen to me… I really need your strength and encouragement to live a happy life and be more like you. Please help me achieve this, and please can you allow for some good to happen to me finally after all this heartache and misery?

    Until we meet again Nan… I’m going to miss you every single day, but I know I’ll see your face again, and that keeps me going…
    Love you lots and lots, as always
    Your granddaughter
    Hayley
    xxxxxxxxxx

    • Hayley
      Have just come across the letter you wrote to your nan…..how proud she would be of you.
      Life for you sounds very hard at present…sorrows seldom come singly and I hope you will find the strength to get through…for what it’s worth I shall think of you often.
      Love never dies Hadley. God bless you x

  6. I enjoyed visiting your webiste. I leave comments rarely, but
    you definately up deserve a thumbs!

  7. Love is forever when it is true love. It continues always when we continue to share it with others. I send you love, my sweetheart, wherever you are, and I send love to all of you in this vast community of widows/widowers. And I open my heart to new love every day.

  8. Thanks so much for a wonderful post on healing and writing. February 21st will be the 8th anniversary of my husband’s death. For some reason every Valentine’s Day irritates me even though he believed it was too commercialized. He said I was he love every day of the year. We used to argue about it every year. I was raised on the day and he wasn’t. But he always knew how to make me laugh 365 days of the year and that was worth a thousand Valentine’s. I have completed my book about being a widow and now in the process of looking for a publisher. It has taken me 5 years but it has been worth every moment of typing and hand writing my story. I would like permission Eleanor to post and give you credit, on my blog A Widow Sista’s Heart. Reading your blog give me solace and encouragement to challenge myself to my new life. Thanks so much.

  9. Hi Eleanor,
    Can we have permission to reprint your entire post on the AfterTalk site? Of course, we’d credit you and whatsyourgrief.com.

  10. What a very good post. I am in a unique position as my husband died on Valentines Day. We hear about this day for 6 weeks, beginning precisely after the New Year and not letting up until Feb. 15. It screams at us as we go in stores, listen to the radio, watch on television and it is all part of what we do in the time leading up to the anniversary of his death. Year by year it has gotten easier and this year I decided to do something different, something I am only now able to do. I decided I was going to give love away and concentrate on that instead of grieving over my loss. Thanks for letting me tell that part of my story.
    Now on to your writing therapy. My husband had a vibrant business going on the internet through blogs and sites where he wrote about his passions and areas of expertise. It was mind-boggling to me to take over these businesses but after one year, I decided I had to either sink the ship or steer it. I choose to steer it. Writing and continuing his work has given me a sense of accomplishment and also fulfilled my life-long wish to write but didn’t know how to get started. I’m not making near the income he was, but that isn’t even my goal with writing; it is just to continue what he started.
    When I am in a bind with a person, event, or situation, I write – not necessarily on his blogs, but just on my computer to get it “out” of me. Sometimes I send those letters, sometimes I don’t. They just help me cope through everyday life. Thanks for reinforcing our need to communicate after the death of a loved one.

  11. What a truly great post!
    Here in Tucson, where I live, we have a wonderful tradition every year called the Tucson All Soul’s Procession. Over a hundred thousand people participate every year, some traveling from far away to join us. Every November we make masks, costumes, signs, and human-powered floats, carry altars and photos, and walk in the streets in remembrance of those we love who have died. Although it has some things in common with the Mexican Day of the Dead, it is not a Dia de los Muertes event, and is welcoming to everyone from every tradition, belief, and walk of life. It is a profoundly moving and healing experience for our community. Part of the Procession is a huge urn, eight feet in diameter, that we pull through the streets. People put letters to their dead, prayers, photos, flowers, and anything else that will burn safely into the urn and at the end of the Procession we burn the urn, releasing all our words and feelings into the universe. Every year I write letters to those I love who are dead to put into the urn. No matter where you live, you can send us your letters or prayers and we will treat them with utmost respect and privacy and put them into the urn along with everyone else’s. This is another thing you could do with letters to the dead. Or, come and join us in person! We would love to see you. You can learn more about the Procession by Googleing “Tucson All Soul’s Procession”, or on Facebook as “All Soul’s Procession Weekend”.

  12. Hello Eleanor!
    Thank you for sharing and encouraging the benefits of Writing to your deceased loved ones, AND for Sharing AfterTalk with your audience!
    Like the author of this beautiful letter, AfterTalk is not only used when grief is new, it’s
    a place to visit and share life’s ongoing dialogue with your deceased loved one.
    Here is a wonderful letter, written 21 yrs. after the authors husband died by suicide.
    It is titled: To My Deceased Husband: Let me Tell you about our Children
    http://www.aftertalk.com/blog/deceased-husband-let-tell-children/

    Again Thank you…..LOVE how you write and share. It’s like being with an old friend .
    All the Best, Lisa,http://www.aftertalk.com

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